Another Monday, another addition to this slowly growing collection of Micaela’s Monday Musings. And to make up for the fact that I haven’t posted anything in over a month, I’ve written you a nice long piece with lots of anecdotes! Lucky you! Also they’re just musings so I’m not apologising if it seems all over the place!
Something I have found myself feeling very passionate about lately is how drama can encourage creativity, body awareness and good communication skills during early childhood development. I believe this is important for all children but at the moment I am particularly focusing on the benefits this would have on blind children, as I don’t believe much research has been done on this at all, if any.
As I am a long way off from setting up a drama program for blind young people, and don’t have any readings to refer to on this topic specifically, I have started with what appears to be the only potential sources within my reach: Family holiday videos.
When my siblings and I were quite young, our Dad was often glued to the video camera when we went away. Or if he was busy interacting with his family, that faithful device would usually be set down somewhere close by; capturing some of the most fun moments, the most embarrassing… and some of the most boring too!
As well as feelings of nostalgia and laughing or cringing at the weird things we did as kids, it’s interesting to note some of the little bits of character development (aha Good use of acting terminology there Micaela) that take place during these videos.
In a couple of the videos, we can be seen visiting Australia Zoo in Queensland. My brother, being a huge Crocodile Hunter fan, was eagerly touching and feeding any animals he could get his hands on, whilst my sister and I were not always so keen. We were fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to hold and feed a macaw. In case anyone doesn’t know, it’s a fairly big, noisy bird and the idea was that we would let it sit on our shoulder, hold a peanut between our lips, and allow the bird to grab this with it’s beak. Well… four-year-old Micaela was not having any of that! I was terrified. I refused to even just hold the bird. So, my Mum, along with the very generous staff member holding the bird, patiently worked on convincing me to at least touch it. As I was extremely nervous and had no way of knowing exactly how far away the bird was from my hand, Mum gently placed her hand under mine, so she was able to help guide me and make sure I felt right to the end of it’s long tail, without having complete hold of my hand and dragging it to where it needed to go, which would have been less effective. A similar approach was taken when my sister became anxious about holding a snake.
Another interesting example of desensitising occurred at the beach when every time a wave splashed onto the feet of three-year-old Micaela, I would have a melt down and beg my Aunt who came with us on that particular holiday to pick me up so I didn’t have to experience the texture of sand and water covering my feet. What did my Aunt do? She sat down in the shallows, holding me so that I was secure, but still made to endure the small waves. Naturally, I still objected for a long time, but eventually with the right encouragement, I began to get used to the sensation of waves flowing over my ankles.
The above scenarios are examples of receiving necessary assistance to overcome fears and take risks. However, there are times in life where children and adults alike must be allowed to independently take risks and perform their own problem solving without intervention from others. And here is a perfect time for a final moment from Dad’s collection of holiday memories:
So, back to three-year-old Me again, this time in our holiday apartment. Keeping in mind that my Dad is obviously following me with the video camera, so there is someone watching me the whole time, but he remains silent and I am therefore oblivious to the fact that he is present. I can be seen walking, rather unsteadily on my feet, towards the front door, where I find one of my Mum’s sandals. I try putting my feet in the toe end, but quickly realise this is wrong and correct my error. I then walk out the front door and fall over. After picking myself up I continue on my merry way for a few seconds before I must decide it’s time to go back inside. I wander back and forth for some time, feeling around for the front door. I know it’s there somewhere; I can hear my older siblings playing rather noisily and the television can be heard in the background too, I just have to find that door! Eventually, I do, and make my way in, announcing at the top of my voice that I fell over as if I expect the whole world to stop for a few seconds and admire my bravery.
I relay this story to show an example of me – the blind person – experimenting, making mistakes, and coming up with solutions to my own problems. Meanwhile my Dad – the sighted person – looked on, ready to support his child or stop her from injuring herself if necessary, but giving her the opportunity to sort herself out first.
Unfortunately, it is too common for sighted folk to assume when we need help, what sort of help we require, and that they are there to protect us from taking any risks at all. Last year during my secondary school drama classes, I was given the task of presenting a five minute solo performance. I selected a plastic takeaway coffee cup as my prop. After practicing my piece a few times in a carpeted room, I performed in front of my teachers and classmates in the auditorium with a wooden floor, which I had not rehearsed in. Had my brain been properly switched on it may have occurred to me that when I reached the part in my performance where the character through their coffee cup in anger, it was going to roll away. Needless to say, there was an unplanned audience participation moment part way through where I was crawling around on my hands and knees whilst the onlookers shouted “to your left a bit more! Now reach out a bit further!” As if the experience itself wasn’t humiliating enough, my teachers told me in front of my classmates that in future I should tie props to my wrists to ensure I would never lose them. It didn’t matter how much I assured them that I knew what had caused the problem and how to deal with it in future, weeks later they were still asking me to tie props to my wrists during the final exam… not sure how they thought this would work considering my two main props for said exam were a chair and a chest!
The point is, school drama became an environment where I didn’t feel free to experiment as much as my peers. I felt pressured to always get things right first go because otherwise it was assumed I was incapable of doing a task, and that’s not how it should be. Throughout our lives we are constantly learning from our mistakes, but that’s okay. Not realising that the cup would role away on the wooden floor had nothing to do with blindness and everything to do with me not considering the environment I would be performing in. Sure, the fact that I couldn’t see where it rolled to meant that it was harder for me to locate it, but in my head, I was already thinking of strategies to prevent this in future, and I knew it wouldn’t be a problem for the final exam because none of my props were round and three dimensional shaped. As a creator and performer, I need to be allowed as much experimentation and risk taking as my sighted colleagues. I have to problem solve all the time, like how am I going to book this ticket if the website’s not accessible? How will I get to the shops when I can’t take my familiar route while the road is blocked off? How will I give my kitchen floor a thorough clean after dropping a jar of honey when it is very likely that I will leave some behind in the initial clean? How will I orientate myself to this new and unfamiliar performance set? I think you get the idea… I’m pretty used to making mistakes, encountering problems and solving them. Please believe that I know my own mind and be assured that if I need your help, I will ask for it or accept your offer gladly. But if I come up with a solution, don’t rule it out just because the blind person thought of it… let’s give it a go first!